Off the Grid, a weekly food truck gathering at the Caltrain station parking lot in Menlo Park on Wednesday nights, has won approval of its plan to move to the city's Civic Center parking lot located off Alma Street, between the library and the Arrillaga Family Gymnasium.
The Menlo Park City Council on Oct. 11 voted 3-1-1 (with Ray Mueller opposed and Catherine Carlton abstaining) in favor of a lease agreement with Off the Grid for use of the Civic Center site. A maximum of 10 food trucks at a time would be allowed, according to the tentative lease agreement.
Separately, though, Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline said he plans to talk to Caltrain about why it terminated its lease with Off the Grid, which has operated for almost two years at the train station parking lot.
According to Economic Development Manager Jim Cogan, Caltrain's decision is based on a preservation covenant intended to protect the historic train station building.
According to Caltrain spokesperson Tasha Bartholomew, the station is listed in the "National Register of Historic Places," and Caltrain's designated "covenant keeper/reviewer" Hilda Lefebre, determined that the weekly Off the Grid events were not "appropriate under the historical covenant."
Mayor Cline says he intends to ask Caltrain why a single person's interpretation of the covenant should dictate how the space can be used. Councilwoman Carlton volunteered to act as a backup for the mayor.
"I think the request to move is not based on something I can see as a reasonable argument," she said. "Maybe I'm missing something. I'd love to have that conversation."
In the meantime, though, the food-truck gathering needs a new home, and city and Off the Grid staff have concluded that the Civic Center parking lot is the best location. The site was recommended for approval in a 4-2 vote by the Planning Commission on Sept. 12.
Other sites were considered. Closing streets or part of a downtown parking plaza were seen as disruptive to shoppers and other users.
The move comes at a bad time for Off the Grid, its business development director Ben Himlan told the council.
The operation reduces its hours in the winter, and during the rainy season, turnout is expected to drop to only 200 visitors per week, Mr. Himlan said, compared to its overall average of 500 to 600 weekly visitors. That, combined with a new location, could spell trouble for the food truck event, which relies on vendors who agree to come if they think they can meet sales expectations.
To help, the council agreed to waive the $1,500 a month rental fee in the six-month lease agreement, charging only $1 a month instead.
Ms. Carlton said she had hoped to table the lease agreement with the city and talk to Caltrain first, to see why the train-station lease was terminated.
Mr. Mueller said he opposed the move to the Civic Center because additional traffic and pedestrians could create dangerous conditions on Ravenswood Avenue. Also, he opposed the loss of parking at the Alma Street parking lot.
The lease would last six months and then be reviewed by the Planning Commission. The city has the option to terminate the lease on 30 days' notice.
Concerns about the event causing parking problems at the library were allayed by Library Director Susan Holmer, who said that Wednesdays are usually quiet evenings at the library, and that Off the Grid could attract more visitors. "More people in the library is always good," she said.
Mayor Cline recommended setting up a dropoff site for young athletes headed to the gym and setting aside some nearby parking for library patrons.
"We're flexible and we're committed to staying here, and we're committed to finding something that is a win-win," said Mr. Himlan.
There's no date set in stone for the big move yet, he said.